Lower Saucon Planners’ Decision on Pheobe Ministries’ Proposal

Today’s MCall Online features an article entitled “To cheers, Lower Saucon planners reject Phoebe plans: But council will have final say on whether to allow housing for as many as 500 seniors.”

The Lower Saucon Twp. Planning Commission rejected the proposed rezoning of a 65 acre lot at the intersection of Meadows Rd. and Friedensville Rd.–just southeast of Lehigh’s South Mountain atheletics facilities.  

According to the article, the 65 acre parcel is currently zoned to permit single-family residences on roughly 1/2 acre lots.  Apparently, the planning commission meeting was well attended, with crowd sentiment decidedly opposed to the proposed rezone.  The rezoning would permit Phoebe Ministries to build a continuing-care (55+?) community that could accommodate “as many as 500 residents.”  That number–I’d wager–was the primary attendance driver for the meeting, where 200 residents showed up (to a planning commission meeting).

“We hope Phoebe Ministries understands this isn’t about them,” Dugan said.

The tract is zoned suburban residential, which allows for single family homes on roughly half-acre lots.

Jason s. Engelhardt, a planning engineer from Bethlehem representing Phoebe Ministries, said roughly 84 single-family homes could be built on the site.

At previous meetings, residents opposed the heights on some of the buildings, the density proposed-as many as 500 residents — and the strain on public water and sewer systems, alteration of the geology in the carbonate rich region and the impact on neighboring properties.

My questions relate to the concerns expressed by residents about the proposed rezoning.  If the tract were currently zoned as green space or some type of preservation purpose, I’d be considerably less likely to support the rezone, but the proposed change should be assessed in light of the current zoning of the tract and the development likely to take place there in the future absent the proposed change.

First, residents expressed concerns about the density of Phoebe’s proposed development.  Density, in and of itself, does not provide a sound reason for opposing the proposed change.   It is difficult to imagine that aesthetic concerns of township residents could not be addressed through the design of the development.  Moreover, the property on the north side of Friedensville Road across from the 65 acre site contains Lehigh University graduate student housing, and there is at least one apartment complex further east on Friedensville Road.  While Phoebe’s proposed development would increase density in the area, it would not appear to be wildly out of place by any means.   

Second, while 500 seniors sound like–and I suppose, is–a sizeable figure, the shock factor this likely created with residents will be reduced by considering the residential alternative for the site.  Specifically, Phoebe’s engineer estimated that 84 single family homes could be constructed on the 65 acre lot as currently zoned.  Of course, 84 single family homes do not mean only 84 residents: assuming a household size of 3, that’s 252 people; assuming household of 4, that 336 people.  Therefore, rather a marginal increase in the number of township residents of 500, the marginal increase in residents is more likely to be on the order of 175 to 250.

Now, I’m not suggesting that 175 to 250 new township residents would not have a noticeable impact on municipal service demand; however, it seems important to acknowledge who those new residents are likely to be and what services they are likely to demand.  Most notably, the single family residential development likely to occur absent the proposed zoning change is sure to bring in a significant number of school children–a particularly pricey proposition.  School children are an additional cost/demand that the Phoebe development would not create.

As the Lower Saucon Township Council and residents considers whether or not to ultimately approve the proposed rezoning and Phoebe’s proposed development, it would appear the better part of reason to compare the proposed continuing-care community with 65 acres of green space, but with single-family subdivision that will likely, eventually replace that presently-green space if the rezoning is rejected by the council.

Here’s the link to the multi-municipal comprehensive plan developed by Lower Saucon Township,  the Borough of  Hellertown, and the Saucon Valley School District.

Posted on February 18, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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